NHC 2020 contenders bet on horses — and themselves

February 08, 2020 10:00am
NHC 2020 contenders bet on horses — and themselves
Photo: Horsephotos.com/NTRA

At the National Horseplayers Championship, contenders inside Bally’s Las Vegas are tasked with placing a series of mythical $2 win/place bets on a series of races Friday through Sunday.


In addition to wagering on horses, many bet on themselves as Bally’s offered future wagers for most contestants who qualified by late last year.

With prices ranging up to 150-1 per player, for instance, Nicholas Fazzolari said he placed 15 $10 bets on an array of options, including his friends.

But when it came to a rite-of-passage NHC souvenir — the ticket with his own name on it — there was the unfortunate distinction of having his name misspelled. At Bally’s, the New Jersey resident’s known as “N. Gazzolari.”


“I tried to get it changed but they couldn’t do it,” said Fazzolari, who placed a $100 bet on himself. He stands to win $150,000 in addition to the $800,000 prize as NHC champ.

Dave Nichols, of Wayne, Penn., had no choice but to place an NHC future.


“My wife makes me bet on myself each year,” he said. “I went down last night and placed a bet on myself. The coolest thing is seeing the ticket. I still get a kick out of it.”


Massachusetts’ Paul Weizer played $20 on himself at 150-1. Win the NHC, and that’s $3,020 of “gravy” on top of the main prize. Lose, and it’s “a nice souvenir” for the college professor playing in his 14th NHC.


Steven Doodnauth of New York bet $50 on himself but bet more money on others he also felt had a good chance to win the contest.


“Everybody is an underlay,” Doodnauth quipped. “I bet on (Chris) Littlemore, who is doing pretty well and he’s hit the board the last few years. I wanted to bet Paul Cush but they bet him down to 35-1, and I bet on a couple of other guys. But Littlemore was my big bet.”


Justin Nicholson, founder of AJ Suited racing and breeding stable as well as a co-founder of the horse racing industry convention Equestricon, made a personal wager but couldn’t bring himself to bet on any of his competitors.


“I put $100 down at 150-1 odds and that ticket has been carved up a number of ways already,” said Nicholson. “I can’t bring that kind of bad luck on somebody else, though.”


As for the way to winning the NHC, strategies differ greatly. Contestants are tasked each day with playing eight scheduled mandatory races. They must then choose from 10 additional races remaining on cards of official NHC tracks.


“In the optionals, I’m going to look for value,” said Weizer, the professor. “I’m either going to look for a horse that I think is a bad favorite that I’m going to play against, or I’ll play a horse that I really like.”


Fazzolari believes contending means choosing as many winners as possible in the mandatories, saying “it’s really important to try to stay with the pack.”


Nichols, who has multiple entries in the NHC, plays each of them differently


“I’m willing to accept lower odds in a mandatory race,” he said. “I think you are value hunting a bit more in your optionals. I have two entrie,s and I use one as a ‘bomb ticket.’ I’ll take more shots with that one. The other one will have my best plays.”


Doodnauth believes the best strategy is to go against the grain.


“I try to grind out the optional races,” he said. “If I can score 2-1 or 3-1 on five or six of those I can be contrarian in the mandatory races. That’s the opposite of what people do. People try to get the points in the mandatory races and go bombs away in the optionals.”


Nicholson adheres to a strategy similar to Doodnauth.


“I look at the mandatories as a chance to try to play a bit of a price because if a favorite wins, everyone has it,” said Nicholson. “In the optionals, I’d rather pick winners. I know optionals are a good opportunity to hit bombs, but I’d rather find a bunch of 4-1 winners and then use the mandatories to try to separate.”


With nearly 700 contestants in this year’s N.H.C., the top 69 contestants (including ties) in combined two-day earnings will advance to Sunday, which features a semifinal round consisting of 10 optional races at the official tracks.


The final round, held later on Sunday will consist of the top 10 in three-day earnings making the “final table” — seven mandatory races to crown a champion and Eclipse Award winner for Horseplayer of the Year.

 

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